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Antananarivo mayor calls for 'democratic transition'

Antananarivo's mayor, Andry Rajoelina, has called for a two-year "democratic transition" to remove the island's president. Massive demonstrations are planned for the capital on Saturday by the mayor and his opposition movement.

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AFP- The Madagascan capital's feisty mayor, Andry Rajoelina, called Friday for a two-year "democratic transition" to remove the island's president, as the world urged restraint following deadly unrest.

In recent days, the Antananarivo mayor has cast himself as the leader of the Indian Ocean country's opposition and mounted a spirited challenge against President Marc Ravalomanana, whom he describes as a dictator.

"I want to head this democratic transition. It is the wish of the people. There is need for fresh blood, a new vision," he told reporters at his home.

"Many people are dreaming today, trying to find a solution. The people see the future in a young man in whom they have confidence and not in any other person. This young man is called Andry TGV," he said.

The 34-year-old DJ and businessman turned politician has been nicknamed TGV after the French high speed train for his high-octane temperament.

Thousands of Antananarivo residents took to the streets on Monday in demonstrations that turned violent as people looted and vandalised buildings in the capital an other regions across the vast Indian Ocean island.

At least 68 people were killed on Monday and early Tuesday, but a senior French official said more than 80 people had been killed in the former colony.

Rajoelina said a transitional government would lead to presidential elections "which we will organise in two years maximum."

Despite his notorious political ambition, the mayor insisted he would not run in such an early presidential poll.

Madagascar's next presidential polls are not until 2011 and Rajoelina would constitutionally be barred from running since the minimum age for candidates is 40 years.

The United Nations and the United States issued calls for restraint Thurday and encouraged a resumption of dialogue between the island's rivals.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the recent political violence in Madagascar," State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

"We call on Madagascar's leaders and the Malagasy people to exercise restraint and avoid all further violence. We urge an immediate resumption of dialogue among the principal political actors and the government," he said.

The office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also released a statement stressing it was "up to the Malagasy parties to settle their disagreements through peaceful means and an inclusive dialogue."

The UN chief reiterated an offer by the world body to support any dialogue.

Departing from his previous stance, Rajoelina told reporters he was ready to meet the president to find a solution to the political crisis.

"But holding talks would mean accepting the demands of the people who want a transitional government," he said.

On Thursday, Antananarivo was turned into a ghost town after the mayor called on residents to stay at home and demanded that the government punish those behind the killing on Monday of one of his supporters.

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